A Practical Guide to Customer Service
This is a true story:
I had been standing there for five minutes, not very long in terms of history, but an eternity when waiting for a cup of coffee. At first, I assumed that the barista must have been working on something in the back. No big deal. There was another person in the coffee shop who had gotten their order already, so somebody had to be there.
After a minute, I craned my neck to see if I could see through the kitchen window without breaking the customer/server barrier that is “the counter.” I couldn’t see them back there, and there was no sound coming from the back, either.
I turned to the other satisfied customer, a grin on their face as they sipped their caramel latte. Envying them for their joy, I asked, “Do you know where the employee is?”
Not wanting to leave their zen-like state of enjoyment, the patron half-heartedly turned their head to the left (looking just at me) and then the right (which was actually just a wall) and said “Nope” and returned to their state of happiness.
“Well, did you see if they left?” I asked, but they were already zoned back in (or out or whatever it was they were doing).
I called to the back to see if they were just sitting there, maybe taking a break. Nothing. I was angry, but also concerned. Maybe they had collapsed back there and passed out. Caramel Dreamer over here wouldn’t have noticed and there was nobody else in the café. I debated just jumping the counter and rushing through that metal door with the clear circle to rescue the fallen service provider.
As I contemplated this daring rescue maneuver, the barista walked in through the front door of the café. “How long have you been waiting?” they asked, surprised that I was standing at the counter.
“Five minutes, I think” I said, relieved that I didn’t make a fool of myself trying to save the phantom helper back there. I was going to finally get some service.
“You should have come and got me, I was right outside,” he said with a hint of aggravation in his voice.
Infuriated didn’t begin to describe the anger that was welling up inside of me. I wanted to storm out of the building. To show this thoughtless worker what happens when you give poor or, in his case, nonexistent service. The desire for coffee outweighed my anger, though, and I asked for a large cup with a scowl. After receiving my coffee, the young barista hurried back out the front door to his friends at the outside table.
This story may sound familiar to you. You may have experienced service like this at one point of another in your life. Whether at a coffee shop, retail store, or in a business meeting, you may have been given poor customer service. While many would argue that getting bad service is a small thing, that there are far more important things to contemplate, how we treat each other is an important factor in how society works. Without kindness and respect, society tends to become a less productive and enjoyable place. That’s right, good customer service could be the one thing that keeps society from falling into chaos…maybe.
So, going back to the story, what customer service errors were performed?
1. Nobody was there: This one is pretty obvious, but you can’t give good customer service if you don’t have somebody on campus. If I had been a less than honest customer, I could have just filled up a cup of coffee and left without a word of admonishment. For us honest customers, though, not having somebody there makes the company look unprepared and unprofessional.
2. He didn’t greet me: When he did come into the store, the barista didn’t say “Hello, welcome to [insert business name]”. There wasn’t a smiling face. Instead, he was shocked that I was there. Upset that he had to do his job. This presented his business as one that isn’t expecting business and not worried about the customer.
3. He didn’t apologize for his mistake: This might sound like I’m being a crybaby; but when someone makes a mistake, it’s good sense to expect them to apologize for the error. Instead, the barista acted as though it was my fault for not seeking him out, even though he wasn’t wearing his [Big Coffee Company Logo] apron while he sat with his friends outside. For all I knew, he was just a guy in a black shirt and khaki pants. Somehow, it was my job to know that he worked there and to relieve him of his duties of chatting so that he could serve me.
4. He didn’t learn from his mistake: After helping me, the barista simply went right back outside to enjoy the afternoon with his buddies. I only imagined how many others would be mis-helped, or un-helped, that day. And so I left with my coffee, never to return.
So what are the remedies for our Barista’s behavior? And what can you do to make sure that you and your employees give great customer service? Here’s a practical guide to great customer service:
1. Be There: Not just on campus (though that’s a start) but in position to help customers, too. It may be that you need to be right at the door, somewhere on the sales floor, or behind the counter. It depends on the service or product you provide and the business that you run. The main thing is to be visible and to be ready to aid the customer when they enter into your space. (You have to be there in your mind, also. Mental focus and readiness our important factors in providing great service).
If you only work with customers online or by phone, be “there” when someone inquires via email or phone call. That doesn’t mean you have to be available at all times of the night. Like a business, you can set hours and days of operation. Just clearly state them on your website and/or advertisements.
2. Greet Them With A Smile: No matter what you do, you need to look and sound like you are excited and happy to interact with your customers. Saying “Hello” and “How Ya Doin'” are easy to do and go a long way, as well as saying “Welcome to [Your Business]”. If you do this with a smile, that can take that greeting to the next level. Happiness, like all emotions, is contagious. More often than not, the prospect will smile back. Even if they don’t, they’ll know that you are happy to see them (and that’s always a plus).
If you work over phone or email you can still convey a smile and a warm greeting. The inflection of your voice over the phone gives an indication of how you feel and whether you are smiling or frowning (try it). Your emails and letters can indicate a warm or cold tone depending on the verbiage and personality you put into each message.
3. Apologize and Make It Right: If you do make a mistake (and they happen to everyone), make sure that you apologize to the customer. You’d be surprised how many service people act like the barista did towards me. They pass the blame back to you because that’s how we act in other things. We don’t want to be seen as being wrong, and we definitely don’t want to make our company look like it’s wrong. But sometimes you will be, and even if your not (i.e. the customer is just being negative and looking for problems), just do this:
-Apologize for the error
-Ask how you can make it right
-Do it (make it right)
-Thank them for bringing it to your attention
-Write it down (so you don't do the next thing...)
4. Don’t Repeat Errors: If you are constantly making the same mistakes, your business will start to suffer and customers will start to look elsewhere to do business (I do now for coffee). The best way to prevent this is to write it down and analyze it. If you write mistakes (and compliments) down and periodically go over the most common errors (and positives) in your business, you can learn how to not repeat errors (and to repeat positives). By seeing common errors and positives on display (where only workers can see them) your employees will have it in their mind what they need to focus on during the day to make customer service better.
The previous ideas are not mind-exploding revelations. They are things that many of us will be told and say “I totally agree with that”. However, poor customer service still exists today and it can be prevented by implementing these four practical ideas about customer service. If we will be present in body and mind when we interact with customers, be warm and friendly (even if you don’t want to be) when we interact with them, acknowledge and correct our errors, and record our actions (positive and negative) for company evaluations, we will improve our businesses and the experiences of our customers.Note: Several of these ideas were inspired by Zingerman’s Guide To Great Service.
Do you have your own practical guide to customer service? We would love to hear how you wow your customers. Leave a comment an let us know.
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